State Rep. Mike Shelton helped save a life through a bone marrow donation, and he encourages others – especially African Americans – to become a donor.


“There’s no greater gift you can give than the gift of life,” the Oklahoma City Democrat said Monday, noting that July is African American Bone Marrow Awareness Month.


Shelton added his name to register in 1995 while in college at Langston University. His marrow was used in July, 2009 to treat a Tucson, Ariz., woman battling a persistent form of cancer.


Bone marrow produces red blood cells and is used to treat diseases such as leukemia and sickle cell anemia. Each year, more than 12,000 Americans are diagnosed with life-threatening diseases, and their best or only hope for a cure is a marrow transplant, most likely from someone outside their immediate family.


“We want to get more minorities enrolled in the registry, because by increasing the numbers and the diversity of donors, we can increase the probability that a match will be found,” said Marcikus Long, the Oklahoma Blood Institute’s recruiter for the National Marrow Donor Program -- Be The Match.


The latest count showed approximately 10.5 million names in the national registry, Ms. Long said. According to the Oklahoma Blood Institute, African Americans comprise only 7 percent of that group. Caucasians account for 71 percent; Hispanics/Latinos, 10 percent; Asian, 7 percent; Native Americans, 1 percent; Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, 0.2 percent; and Americans of multiple races, 4 percent.


Race and ethnicity matter a great deal when it comes to finding a matching donor. “Searching patients are most likely to find the best match within their own race or ethnicity,” reports.


Compared to other racial groups, African Americans have the lowest odds of finding a potential matching marrow donor from the registry, because fewer are registered. For Caucasians, the likelihood of finding a donor on the Be the Match Registry who is willing and able to donate is 93 percent; for Native Americans, it’s 82 percent; Asians and Pacific Islanders, 73 percent ; Hispanics and Latinos, 72 percent. For African-Americans, the likelihood is 66 percent.


Registering with Be The Match as a potential life-saving donor takes only 10 to 15 minutes. Donors must be between the ages of 18 and 44, in good health and willing to donate to any patient they match. A donor’s tissue type is determined by simply swabbing the cheeks, and is then placed in the registry; Ms. Long related.


Potential donors can register with the OBI or at Shelton’s legislative office in the State Capitol, 2300 N. Lincoln Blvd., Room 539, Oklahoma City.


Marrow can be donated in two ways. The most common method is similar to blood donation via an automated machine, like donating platelets or plasma. The other entails a medical procedure involving removal of marrow from your hip area while under anesthesia. For most donors, discomfort ranges from none to moderate in either donation method


For questions about registering or to provide this opportunity to others, contact Audrey Womack, coordinator of the OBI’s Be The Match Program, at (405) 297-5593.